Rock Bluff Spring, accessible only by boat and notable for its narrow alleys for cave diving, is now in the possession of the Alachua Conservation Trust.
How they will develop it for public use was the subject of a meeting at Bell Community Center Thursday evening in Gilchrist County, one with vastly different opinions over the future of a natural spring.
Bill McKinstry, the land manager chief heading this project for the Trust, said that this much of a spectrum in opinion was not expected.
One of the most contentious plans: The addition of a buoy line to the swimming area for safety. McKinistry was taken aback at the public disagreement of the plan, as he hadn’t heard any discontent in advance of Thursday’s meeting.
The justification, he said, is “any given weekend, you’re going to have 25 to 30-plus boats out in that spring. They say on Saturdays, it can get pretty crowded in the summer.”
In the past, Rock Bluff Spring was more private, only accessible by boat for swimmers and cave divers, which is a large attraction for many of those who attended the meeting.
McKinstry mentioned in his speech to the attendees that visitors who did not grow up around boats or are unfamiliar with swimming around boats would be at risk of injury.
Ray Rauscher is a local who has been in the area since 2001, and he believes that McKinistry is wrong in his fears about swimmers.
“I don’t recall one time that anyone ever got hurt back there,” Rauscher said. “Now they’re saying they’re going to stop cave diving.”
Divers usually enter the water via boat, which could be taken away.
Dominick Gheesling is a novice cave diver from Tallahassee who more than anything does not want cave divers to lose access to a location as untouched as Rock Bluff Spring.
“There was a concern that with this action happening, that they might just cease all access (for divers),” he said. “We didn’t want to see that happen.”
Trust spokeswoman Katelyn Potter said there would be limits on where boats could go for safety, as the park would have to cater to a wide variety of people.
“We make that land accessible for multiple recreation types,” she said, “so we can’t keep out certain recreation types because we are using public dollars in a public domain.”
Rauscher and Gheesling argued that having designated boating and swimming zones would essentially shut down the ability to cave dive.
Fortunately for all parties involved, this meeting was only preliminary, gathering people’s opinions by polling on various topics.
McKinstry said his organization will be taking in all the information and devising a plan to try to appease as many guests as possible while also keeping safety as a top priority.
“I think making it safe for people to swim, and that starts with that buoy line,” he said. “And, of course: bathrooms.”